Surveys: When less is more

I started a customer feedback company because I am a great believer in the power of the voice of the customer to improve business performance. You might find it surprising therefore to be concerned about the number of people sending surveys in some companies. Surely, more feedback is better; the more the voice of the customer is captured, the more customer-focused a company becomes?

No, no, and thrice no!

No #1: Gathering customer feedback is not just a way of measuring the customer experience, it is part of that experience. What will your customers think if they receive numerous surveys from different parts of your company in the same week? What if those surveys look different, ask the same things in different ways, or address issues which are not important to the customer? And of course, anyone can draft a survey can’t they? Yes, but building a good survey that delivers reliable results requires skill and expertise. If you doubt this, just consider how many poor or irrelevant surveys you have received and tossed into the trash.

It is also staggering how much time and money companies will spend on effective, branded marketing but then allow anyone to send badly designed surveys where the only branding is a theme provided by some cheap survey software.

Couldn’t happen? Well, it can and it does. I speak regularly to people tearing out their hair as they try to deal with exactly this problem. They are charged with implementing a Voice of the Customer program, but rarely given the backing to bring the many departments or business units into line. They have all the responsibility but no power to do what is needed. Typically, they look for another job, often with a company that takes seriously the drive for customer focus and the role of feedback in it.

No #2: What matters is not what results are captured but what is done with the feedback.  All feedback should prompt the consideration of three actions:

  1. Address the specific concerns of individual customers to ensure loyalty.
  2. Identify and correct failings in the processes and systems that deliver the customer experience.
  3. Highlight issues such as product shortcomings or pricing that need company-wide investments.

Too many surveys fail to be converted into meaningful action. This is both a waste of money and a further source of annoyance to customers, who provide feedback in the expectation of change. Even if each of the plethora of surveys generates actions, many will have no impact on what matters most to the customer or worse, create contradictory actions. I struggle to think of another area of corporate activity where such a complete lack of coordination is allowed to go unquestioned.

No #3: Uncoordinated, ad-hoc surveys lead to islands of data and a failure to build a coherent, single view of the customer, which means lost opportunities.

How would you feel if a company you had just complained about in a survey sent you a marketing blurb lauding their products and services, or if you spoke to an agent who had no idea you had a bad experience when you called last week? You would feel that they didn’t care and clearly they didn’t; they either ignored your feedback or were just badly organized. And either way, you would rightfully think that they didn’t  deserve your loyalty.

A single view of the customer brings three significant benefits:

  1. It enables deep personalization of marketing messages that generate a greater ROI.
  2. It improves the quality of insights that can be generated from integrating feedback with purchase, process, and financial data about the customer.
  3. It supports a customer-first culture through the visibility of feedback in the systems that people use in their daily work. The very best companies train staff to consider feedback when shaping their conversations with customers.

If managing surveys in your company is a case where quantity wins out over quality, don’t be surprised if your efforts to drive financial results through an improved customer experience fail to deliver. So, before letting everyone loose with surveys, ask yourself if you are chasing quantity over quality, flash over substance, or effort over results. Do the right thing and think strategically about your feedback program. Your customers, staff, and shareholders will all thank you.

Note: This blog first appeared on Clicktools blog.

 

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